For the past 10 to 15 years, automated void fill systems have taken the packaging industry by storm. Virtually every inner packaging material on the market can be dispensed in fully automatic or semi automatic mode:
- Loose fill packaging
- Inflatable air bags
- Multilayer papers
- Foam in bag packaging
- Bubble packaging
- Polyethylene and polypropylene flexible foam
In-line automation systems feed void fill material into single or multiple drop stations, allowing operators to place a preset or variable amount of material into the box as it passes through the packaging line.
Off-line automation systems pre-make materials which are then transferred to packaging stations manually. This approach is often used with foam in bag systems that employ molds, and is popular in the electronics industry for the packaging of televisions, computer equipment, and large components.
Regardless of the application, many users assume that automation of void fill packaging enhances productivity. While this is usually the case, it is not always so.
One difficulty with void fill automation is the creation of bottlenecks. As long as materials are flowing through the packaging line, everything is fine. But if the equipment breaks down and void fill production comes to a stop, the 10 or 20 or 50 packing stations that rely on that void fill material can no longer process orders. Distribution centers, which rely on speed and productivity to turn profits, cannot afford even brief line shutdowns for the sake of inner packing.
To prevent bottlenecks, distribution centers may keep back up units on hand or maintain an inventory of pre-made materials or alternate materials. In all cases, it is important for users to have trained maintenance personnel available for every shift and clearly understand the service capabilities of the company they purchase void fill systems from.
Automatic void fill systems are reliable, and we don’t mean to overstate the risk. However, any time machinery is used, the potential for breakdowns exists. When working at peak condition, these systems increase productivity, reduce the amount of packaging materials used, and frequently improve ergonomics. We do, though, think it is wise to follow the sound advice of the Boy Scouts when considering void fill automation – Be Prepared!
Packaging Materials, Packaging Equipment, Packaging Solutions
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